I walked up to Johnny O's with the intent to fall in love. I have a serious weakness for old school Chicago stands, especially ones with faded signs and walkup windows. Added to this, Johnny O's specializes in two hard to find Chicago classics: the breaded steak sandwich and the mother-in-law. Very few places serve either, and I've never been anywhere that served both.
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Little Joe's in Countryside is a must for Italian beef and hot dogs, topped with shaved celery giardiniera.
It was clear from the moment I moved here that Chicago cared about its hot dogs more than any other place I'd ever been. And after five years of searching, here are my ten favorite Chicago-style hot dogs.
While Chicago is associated with one particular style of hot dog, in practice we're more of an equal opportunity hot dog admirer. Honestly, we'll try pretty much anything on top of a sausage—just so long as it's good. That's especially true now, as chefs around town have decided to experiment with the hot dog, topping it with ingredients we'd never even consider as possibilities.
When it comes to hot dogs, Chicagoans have opinions. We care where they are made, who serves them, and what tops them. We will drive all over the city to satisfy a craving, passing lesser stands that just aren't quite good enough.
In a city where most stands serve the exact same brands in exactly the same way, Parse's deserves a visit. The northwestern stand serves an incredible Polish sausage from nearby Harczak's Sausage shop.
Rand Red Hots is not a copy of Gene & Jude's, Redhot Ranch, or any other minimalist hot dog stand in the area. It's actually unique, which is about as big of a compliment as I could give it.
Mustard's Last Stand is one of a number of hot dog joints in Chicago with a questionably funny name. Though this time it also functions as a fair warning. Sure, it proudly announces our city's love of the yellow condiment over its more famous tomato-based cousin. But more importantly, this is also your last chance to fill up before catching a football or basketball game at Northwestern University in Evanston.
Mr. Beef sometimes disappoints, but it never completely lets you down. And when it's on, the black pepper-laced Italian beef is one of the best around.
I almost cried with joy when I unwrapped the cheeseburger at Hamburger Heaven Express and gazed upon the patty's gorgeous blackened crust—clear evidence of a hot griddle. Look at it! I legitimately thought I had found paradise.
Ever needed a handy way to remember all those necessary ingredients on a Chicago-style hot dog, or whether the cheese or the sauce goes first on a deep dish pizza? Well, unless that image above didn't load properly, you know that we have an answer for you.
You know those restaurants that look promising when you drive past a dozen times, but never seem tempting enough to make you pull over and give them a shot? For me, that's Brothers Beef, a stripped down stand in the middle of Lincoln Park, which looks like the kind of place I might not love, but at the very least would respect.
I'm proud to report that Chickie's is back. With new owners and a freshly rehabbed location (including an impressive mural on the side of the building) this stand is once again kicking out a destination worthy Italian beef and some fantastic fresh-cut fries.
It's no secret that Chicago cares about its hot dogs. This is not a polite, reverential kind of admiration, but a torrid, mustard-stained love affair, which only grows stronger by the year. Here are my favorite 13 hot dogs that I devoured for in the first six months of 2012.
To order from the walk-up window at Scooter's Frozen Custard, just pull the string next to the window. It is connected to a bell inside, which clanks back and forth a few times, alerting the staff inside that you're ready. This is an operation built almost entirely on frozen custard, and it's a silky smooth foundation.
Yes, I know: there is a "Hot Dogs Cause Butt Cancer" billboard greeting drivers on the Eisenhower. The message, which shows a cartoon man holding a hot dog while looking at his rear, comes from the very official sounding Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and is just one of many signs the group has released around the country.
Logan Square's restaurant scene has blown up over the past two years, so it was strange that it still didn't have a good Chicago stand. Luckily, Mr. G's just opened, and I'm happy to report that along with hand-cut fries, it serves natural casing hot dogs.
As you can tell, Al's Under the "L" Hot Dogs & Polish isn't literally underneath the L, but the whole building does shake when the train rolls by, and that's good enough for me. Featuring a menu of Chicago classics, including minimalist-style hot dogs and Polish sausages loaded with caramelized onions, Al's feels like the kind of place that's been around for years.
When you mention Maxwell Street, most Chicagoans have one food in mind—a massive Polish sausage in a bun topped with mustard and caramelized onions. Jim's Original is considered the originator of the dish, and it is still the most famous practitioner in the city, but it is definitely not the only one.
Though the Natural Casing Hot Dog Map showed where you can get a great hot dog in the city limits, I did have to leave some of my favorite stands off the list, and it didn't exactly seem fair. Now it's time to examine the hot dog offerings in the suburbs.